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Supporting laos ministry ...

the Christian ministry of the whole people of God.

Changing church culture

How do you change the culture of the church? (Chris Peck, Coordinator for Adult Education and Training, Peterborough Diocese writes, as Anglican clergy prepare to renew their ordination vows on Maundy Thursday).

Having had a practice of running clergy residential conferences every five years or so, this year the diocese pushed the boat out and included licensed lay ministers (parish evangelists, pastoral assistants and readers). No-one was sure what the effect would be: how many lay ministers would come to a midweek, four-day conference or how many clergy would stay away?

We decided to go for broke and confront the issues of working together as lay and ordained in ministry, so the small groups on the third day were invited to look at some of the critical statements we hear clergy and lay say about each other, and reflect on ways in which they have found it difficult to work with others and ways they have made it difficult for others to work with them. We encouraged people to bring areas for healing to a healing service that afternoon. We gave time for people to enjoy being human together, gathering around shared leisure interests, and people's titles were deliberately left off name badges. We had a mixture of lay and ordained speakers and worship leaders, planned a variety of imaginative worship, and right from the beginning affirmed the calling of all.

In the event, 307 people came: most of the clergy and nearly as many lay ministers, with several taking a week off work to be there. Many, both lay and ordained, came reluctantly and hesitantly. The feedback from being together was overwhelmingly positive. “I was hesitant about a clergy/lay mix but it has worked well”; “Having lay and ordained ministers together was excellent! It leavened the clergy ‘lump’”; “I now have a better understanding of the challenges ordained colleagues face”; “The inclusion of the lay ministers was a definite plus”. The healing service was a highlight, so many coming forward for prayer ministry that additional lay/ordained teams of ministers were being recruited during the service to handle the queues that were forming. There was an overall sense of people learning to value each other's distinctive contribution to the whole.

What of the impact on the diocese? In light of the conference, our bishop decided he had to change the invitation to the renewal of clergy vows on Maundy Thursday. Some clergy have been shocked and bewildered by the change of culture, which they hadn't been aware of taking place. Some mixed teams are planning days away and developing closer working practices. Some chapters are reviewing their pattern of meetings. Small items in themselves, but indicating a shift of culture. At the same time some unhelpful patterns are re-establishing themselves.

What I think the conference provided was a ‘transfiguration’ experience, a glimpse of what is possible when lay and ordained come together in mutually affirming ways. We are now back down in the valley discovering how much has rubbed off. The jury is out on that one, but there are signs in the wind of a significant change and at the very least we have been granted a foretaste of that day when we gather as one around the heavenly banquet.

Yours in Christ

Chris Peck

 

...the small groups on the third day were invited to look at some of the critical statements we hear clergy and lay say about each other, and reflect on ways in which they have found it difficult to work with others and ways they have made it difficult for others to work with them.

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